Is self-esteem the enemy?

by Monica on October 20, 2011

This morning I came across an article published by a religious group in which working with self-esteem was portrayed as dangerous, not only to religious beliefs but to reality-based decision making. After moving past my own defensiveness and professional slant, I do see how it could be misused and misinterpreted that way, but I also see a danger in NOT focusing on self-esteem. As a strong proponent of valuing oneself and others, especially in the workplace, I find that people with a low sense of self worth rarely are truly connected to anything, even spirituality or religion. They can pose as believers, of course, but they will not have the character to truly stand behind their beliefs of any sort.

A few years ago, I attended an event in Monterrey of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and it struck me that, no matter the specific religion represented, the deepest thinkers on the subject seemed very much at peace with themselves. They sought a spiritual connection with their creator by prayer, ritual and other religious practices, yet they were also deeply in touch with who they were and the impact they could have on others.  Self-esteem was not banned from their vocabulary or demeanor and they valued others deeply, too, whether they were a part of their own tradition or not.

In the context of work, the same is true. Devoid of self-awareness and esteem, leaders begin to think they possess the only truth possible, becoming set in their ways, resistant to change and just plain difficult to work with. (See: Are you Easy to Work With?). It is through self-reflection and acceptance that it becomes possible and natural to collaborate, innovate, move to productive action. If anything, self-deception and disconnection from oneself is the real danger.

To put the subject into perspective from the point of view of the Human Element body of work which I have been a part of for the past twenty years, here is a video of Ethan Schutz explaining the misconception that self-esteem focus will generate self-centeredness and disconnection from others as well as productivity.


Download video: Ogg format

 So what do you think? Is self-esteem the enemy?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Jo Asmus October 20, 2011 at 6:05 am

Hi Monica,

Great, provocative post. You probably already know that I’m in agreement with you! The distinction to be made is that having self esteem doesn’t mean “arrogance” or a loss of humility. It means knowing and accepting yourself well enough to work on those less-than wonderful attributes so that you can create and sustain better relationships. Arrogant people aren’t generally capable of this. Thanks!

Pam October 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

Not sure why religious people would see self-esteem as dangerous. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. To me self-esteem and self-love intermingle.

Monica October 21, 2011 at 11:30 am

I agree with you, Pam. It is a misconception to see it that way. Thanks for your comment

Ricardo Morell October 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Te felicito, no podría estar más deacuerdo con lo que dices. Podrías compartir el artículo religioso del que hablas. Un abrazo.

curtrice November 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Interesting discussion. Low self-esteem is often claimed to be part of the explanation for why women don’t get to the top in organizations, e.g. in academia. I’m doing a project at my university with some women, and it is partially motivated by this claim:
The promotion project: Getting more women professors

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